When something tragic happens to a community, it can serve as a reminder that there are far more important things than the outcome of a sporting event. But often, sports provide the perfect platform to start the healing process. A Little League Baseball® team from Illinois made a gesture that showed the power sports and Little League can have in a community.
On Thursday, July 28, the Bradley-Bourbonnais American Little League All-Star team was getting ready to play in the 8/10-year-old Illinois State Championship Game. Win or lose, the season had been a tremendous success, and everyone involved was excited to be able to play for the title of best team in the state. But all of that excitement vanished in an instant when they received tragic news.
Earlier that day, Jamie S. Leech, 37, of Bourbonnais, Ill., passed away after being involved in a car accident on Interstate 80. Mrs. Leech’s son Gianni is the catcher for Bradley-Bourbonnais. As she was driving home from the previous night’s game, she lost control of her vehicle.
After learning of Mrs. Leech’s passing, those associated with Bradley-Bourbonnais quickly made the decision to forfeit the game, understanding that the team, the families, and the community needed time to heal away from the baseball field.
“Once we found out what happened, I decided that it was best not to play that day,” said Jarrod Darling, Bradley-Bourbonnais Manager. “All of the parents were 100 percent behind the decision. It happened so fast, the whole day was kind of a blur.”
Hinsdale and their manager, Scott Frisoni, were in the midst of their usual pregame preparations when they heard the news.
“It was a 6 o’clock game and we didn’t find out about the accident until 4:17 the day of,” said Mr. Frisoni.
After hearing that Bradley-Bourbonnais would be conceding the game, Mr. Frisoni and his fellow coaches did their best to try and explain the situation to their players. They sat the players down and told them why they wouldn’t be playing that day. After some understandable bewilderment, Mr. Frisoni reminded them of the importance of their families and their communities.
“We told them that they were playing for their city and their family, and we told them how proud we were,” said Mr. Frisoni. “Then I told them, ‘Every one of you guys knows each other’s mothers.’ That seemed to help them understand that not playing was about more than the game.”
That idea of community and togetherness being more important than the score led Mr. Frisoni – after consulting with fellow Hinsdale Little League officials and officials from the host team, Moline Little League – to decide that the best thing to do was to honor both teams’ great seasons by sharing the state championship.
“At this age level there’s no World Series, so this would’ve been the last game of the season for both teams,” said Mr. Frisoni. “We asked if there was any way to acknowledge the two best teams in the state of Illinois.”
Later that day, Mr. Darling and the rest of his team came out to the field to concede the game and acknowledge the Hinsdale team as the Illinois State Champions.
“We showed up at the park to get some closure,” said Mr. Darling. “We didn’t want to cheat those boys out of a title.”
To the surprise of everyone at Bradley-Bourbonnais, they learned that Hinsdale had indeed decided to share the state championship, a move that the District Officials also whole-heartedly supported. Mr. Darling was left stunned by the gesture.
“At the moment it didn’t seem real,” said Mr. Darling. “I think in the coming days and weeks we’ll be able to properly recognize how awesome this gesture was for the kids.”
The gesture is even more noteworthy considering that the two leagues – separated by over an hour drive – did not have any significant connection prior to the accident. Moving forward, though, Mr. Darling sees the two teams and communities having a special relationship with each other.
“Through all this we’re definitely going to stay connected,” said Mr. Darling. “We may even try to get a pickup game organized so that the boys will get a chance to play each other.”